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Pasco commissioner asks: How much planning do we get for $167,000?

County Commissioner Mike Moore wonders what Pasco gets for its regional planning council dues. | C.T. Bowen
Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore is questioning why the county helps fund the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]
Pasco Commissioner Mike Moore is questioning why the county helps fund the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council [Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council]
Published Nov. 13

Mike Moore remembers his time on the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council.

But not fondly.

“I constantly wondered what I was doing there. I wasn’t sure what their motive was and what direction they were going,’’ he said last week.

Moore joined the Planning Council in 2014 before he became a Pasco County commissioner.

In hindsight, perhaps Moore should have anticipated being underwhelmed. The guy who appointed him, Gov. Rick Scott, routinely vetoed the Legislature’s annual appropriation to planning councils across the state.

Now it is Moore questioning the planning agency’s finances. Last week, he persuaded the rest of the Pasco County Commission to delay paying the county’s annual membership dues until the agency’s staff can better explain how it spends its money.

The membership fees are 32 cents a person. Pasco County’s population means it is on the hook for $166,825 for the year. If it pays up, it will bring the county’s total over the past four years to nearly $650,000.

“I’m just being a little frustrated. I don’t know what our return on investment is,’’ said Moore.

In particular, he wondered whatever happened to a medical-tourism push the council advocated in 2015.

This is not a unique position. Last year, counties in southwest Florida talked of withdrawing from their regional planning council. They did not. The idea has been kicked around in Jacksonville. And it’s been asked previously in Pasco.

More than two decades ago, Pasco cut its dues over a two-year period from $118,000 to $63,000. The county wasn’t shy with its criticism, either.

The general sentiment was that the agency was too generous with the public dime and too stingy with the public service. Pasco’s reproach followed similar angst from the city of Tampa, which told the group it was dropping out if the agency did not tighten up the bureaucracy and better define its mission.

There are 11 regional planning councils around the state. State law mandates membership for county governments. Cities have the option of joining. The Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council covers Manatee, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco, Hernando and Citrus counties and 21 cities, including New Port Richey and Dade City.

The council will tell you it does a lot.

It is working on a resiliency strategy for the Tampa Bay region, and the steering committee guiding the effort includes Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano. It completed a visioning project for community redevelopment in New Port Richey. It provides economic analysis and mapping assistance on the resiliency of roads in Pasco and other counties. It does economic studies for the Pasco Economic Development Council, essentially providing eyes from a third-party on the value of business development incentives.

Clearly, the agency’s mission has changed over the years. Gone are the days of reviewing so-called developments of regional impact, because Tallahassee toned down the requirement for regional study of massive development proposals. Instead, the resiliency strategy is becoming a significant part of the agency’s efforts.

“They’re trying to be a little more relevant,’’ acknowledged Mariano.

Moore isn’t convinced. He said he has asked state legislators to consider amending the state law requiring local government membership.

"In my opinion, it should be our choice,'' he said, "especially if we’re going to be required to pay dues.''

Next week, Sean Sullivan, executive director of the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, is scheduled to address Moore and the rest of the Pasco Commission on the group’s functions and importance. Afterward, the commission likely will vote on forking over its dues.

It other words, the group’s mission is growing. Besides calculating economic benefits, resiliency, transportation needs and other matters, the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council now has to do a sales job.

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